This week, WYSO will air a three part interview with Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell. The interview took place Friday, March 11 with WYSO's Emily McCord. Today is the first installment and we begin as Emily asks Leitzell what he thinks his role as mayor means for Dayton.
Emily McCord: Can you describe for me how you see your role as the mayor of Dayton?
Gary Leitzell: In Dayton, we have a city manager form of government. The real role of the mayor and the commissioners is to make sure the public's money is being spent for the public's good. We're supposed to hold the city manager in check with regards to purchase orders and legislations. We have to make sure the citizens benefit. But as mayor, I have to chair the commission meetings. That's my role over the other four commissioners. But the real role that we have is the power to influence and inspire others to do great things, and as long as I use that power for the good of the community, it will pay back ten fold in the end. My real role is to not just hold the city in check and make sure we're spending money properly, but also direct policy based on conversation with citizens and make sure we move the city in a positive and forward manner.
EM: Do you have any conflict with the fact the mayor is a part time position?
GL: Oh, I have no problem with that whatsoever. In fact, I've probably been the first mayor in decades to come out and say that this is a part time position. I treat it, even though I end up working 30-36 hours a week, it's still part time. I do have a family. I have child and we homeschool her. I'm a real person and I tell people that. I'm a real person. I have a life. It's on the books as a part time position and the city manager is the person who really makes the decisions. I'm the person who is front of the media either defending his positions or, I don't really oppose, but I can be critical.
EM: When you say you're the first mayor to look at it as a part time role, what do you mean by that?
GL: It's always been a part time position, but I think previous mayors have kind of hidden that fact from the public and give the illusion that they're in the office every day going at it and answering phones and stuff. I was self employed for so long, I don't really need to be in the office. I can work out of my house because that's what I've done for twenty years. I just think people aren't used to a political person coming forward and being up front and honest, and saying 'hey, let's look at it for what it really is'. I'll do to the best of my abilities within the parameters that are set forth.
EM: Last year, when you began as mayor, you began a leadership council to foster economic growth in Dayton. What is its status now and what are some of the accomplishments of the past year?
GL: Despite what the Dayton Daily News reported, we did not disband the council. We went from six one-hour meetings a year without an agenda, to three one-and-a-half hour meetings a year with an agenda and I personally chair. We had our first meeting in January. It was our best attended meeting. We had a gentleman do a presentation who wants to bring the film industry here to Dayton. It was like, how can this group of influential people facilitate that? David McDonald, who is the other co-chair, is organizing another meeting in about a month that could have a major impact on the city of Dayton in a positive manner. We're trying to do things as a group that has never been done before. We have nothing to lose by trying. It's a good mix of people who have a broad range of skills that can give positive input to moving Dayton forward.
EM: Recently, there was some news that the Dayton population has fallen to a 90 year low, and that was according to numbers from the US Census. What are you plans to attract new residents to the city?
GL: We have some of the lowest house prices in the country. We have some of the lowest cost of living. We are pushing forward to become an immigrant friendly city. There are people born in this country who don't want to live in 35 thousand dollar houses, or they don't want to buy one for 10 thousand dollars and fix it up. But there are people from other parts of the world who see the opportunity to own a home that they would never have had where there from. We have people from Russia who are refugees, we have people coming from Iraq. We've got Nepalese people and Somalians. They seek opportunity and they see opportunity. So we going to try and embrace those people because they can buy these houses, and they're willing to, and they will fix them up and they will become the next generation of self employed entrepreneurs that we need here in Dayton.